Wednesday, December 29, 2010

When Christ Becomes a War Lord

Recently I had what I thought was a conversation with a young co-ed who became incensed that I had written Xmas. She quickly informed me it was CHRISTmas and that she didn't appreciate anyone taking Christ out of Christmas.

So the teacher in me thought I would do the standard education thing: explain the use of chi by the ancients; how the early church treated the title of Christ with the same dignity and respect the Jews did with Yahweh and the Tetragrammaton; how the use of chi was perfectly acceptable through the early 18th century when people became more educated and no longer had to mark the X for their name or the name of Christ; how businesses continued the common practice to save money; and finally how it is a personal preference whether to use the chi or not.

She would have none of that.

You see, by using the chi instead of writing out the entire term Christ, I was participating in an organized plot by atheists who were trying to remove Jesus from the Christmas season. That's right. The atheists have organized, declared war on Christianity and have decided that the Battle of the Bulge is not from the extra helping of mashed potatoes and the fruit cake, but rather the effort to remove Jesus from the hustle and bustle of all that shopping we do this time of year.

Ok. There are so many things wrong with that way of thinking.  

First, Christmas is an entirely secular holiday anyway when it comes to the shopping. Who cares what they say? What matters is the religious expectations the individual and / or family may have. The shopping is not a religious exercise; nor is fighting the crowds a penance. What goes on in those stores or at those check out lines is not a worship event. Believe me: It is anything but celebrating the Incarnation.

The only reason merchants even use "Happy Holidays" is that they recognize there are many, many, many who are not Christians at all and have other faiths. Would you want to have the clerk say "Happy Ramadan" to you? So with several faiths celebrating at an entirely secular event anyway, who cares?

If the store has Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or whatever, it is irrelevant. "Xmas" is a secular event that runs from roughly the day after Thanksgiving until the last football game in January of the New Year.

Second, the whole idea that atheists are using chi as a means to remove Jesus is preposterous at best, if not an out-and-out lie. I'm sure there is an atheist somewhere that has said they want to do that and use the chi for that purpose. OK. But I've never met a single atheist who has said that. I've never even heard of one who has said that. I certainly have never known an organized Atheist Army with Sharpies a'blazing, running around with a huge X superimposed on the Christ in Christmas. For the statement that atheists are trying to remove Jesus from the season to be true, there has to be some evidence. There is none. It is just a made up, pious sounding statement that has zero basis in fact. None.

Also, the not-so-subtle pressure the militant-Christian puts on merchants is astounding. That the Christian is going to treat a merchant with threats of economic murder is not Christ like. In fact, that intimidation is more like the Pharisees of whom Jesus said gave God homage with their lips but their heart was far from Him. So those people at Walmart better say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, and they better not have Xmas signs. Never mind what is in their heart; they had better say it like the militant wants or the economic carpet bombings begin.

How is this mentality any different from the Muslim extremists who insist that depictions of Mohammed are blasphemous? Sure, the Taliban will kill the infidel. But the Tali-Christian will try to put the offending merchant out of business. What is the different internal emotion between killing the body and killing the business?

Of course, I never have found any Biblical passage that says celebrate Christmas or give gifts in December anyway.

When Jesus is used as a War Lord to beat people into submissive acts instead of being presented as the Prince of Peace that changes people's hearts, there is a problem with the Act of War. It is a heart problem that is more concerned about outward appearance than internal devotion.

So, Happy Holidays; Happy Ramadan; Merry Xmas, Happy Chanukah; Happy Kwanza; Blessed Yule Season; Merry Christmas; or whatever you happen to be or not be. Jesus is more than a shopping event and He is no War Lord.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merrill Lynch Almost Brought Down the Entire World Economy (After Destroying Their Own Company)

MSNBC Report: 

How Merrill Lynch bankers helped blow up their firm

Oh, sure, Mother Merrill had a lot of help in the Grand Scheme, but the actions of this one company nearly plunged the world into another Great Depression. The sad part of all this is that the people who were pointing out the dangers within the company were fired for doing so, all the while Merrill paid the execs running the sham millions of dollars.

This should be criminal.

Shame on Merrill Lynch and the employees who participated in the fraud.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brief History of Christmas

For some reason, people have some really strange ideas about Christmas. Some folks think it is a Pagan holiday. Others believe it to be a uniquely Christian event. Neither are true and both are correct. Fact is, Christmas is a relatively new event in the US, with the secular celebrations not beginning until just after the close of the Civil War and the religious celebrations not until the late 19th century. In other words, when someone says we've "always celebrated Christmas in America," they really don't know what they are talking about.

The religious underpinnings of Christmas go back to Pagan origins with all sorts of festivities
and emblems, many eventually incorporated into the modern celebration. (Click here for a link that discusses some of the Christmas emblems we have today. Click here for a brief history on the religious aspects that have blended together to comprise our modern celebration.) 

When someone passes along the God Spam that talks about all the representations of Christ that are in the Christmas tree .... uh, no. Not true. Someone just made that up and passed it along. (Here's a reference that attempts to relate the seasonal emblems to Christianity, most of which are just bunk, since the representation story is just made up, e.g., where in the Bible is round wreath of green said to symolize the circle of God's Family protecting others?)

Simple science, some history and some logic may explain some of the holiday decorations and lore. Did psychedelic mushrooms and the Santa story gradually weave itself into popular culture over the last 200 years? (Link.)

We've all heard that the Roman festivals were eventually adapted into
Christian celebrations under Constantine. True, Constantine needed the rising Christian population to fight his battles and the struggling Christians readily accepted the power that came from official endorsement. So the Pagan aspects became Christianized.

Through the middle ages, the Catholic Church expanded the
Christmas celebration and other Pagan celebrations were assimilated.

Then came the Presbyterians. And the Puritans.

Finally, there came Cromwell.

The Presbyterians in Scotland
and the Puritans (the same ones that came to America) completely rejected the celebration of Christmas. They called it a sinful and heretical idea that was nothing more than idolatry. In fact, Scottish Presbyterians banned Christmas celebrations and those who observed the day were met with swift and severe punishment for their sins against God. (Link.) It wasn't until the 1950s that Scottish Presbyterians removed the ban.

Cromwell became Lord Protector of England
and with his Puritan forces banned the festival of Christmas in 1645.

Those same Puritans came the New World to escape the persecution of the Anglican
and Catholic church, both of which celebrated Christmas. So when they came to America, Christmas was made illegal, with penalties imposed by the judge and the church, usually one in the same. The nativity, in particular, was believed to be the gross sin of idolatry. (Link)

So for most of the Colonies, Christmas was spent in work, not worship. (Link.)

Christmas was celebrated in a few areas of Colonial America, mainly where the Catholics and Anglicans had strongholds. Still, those were small and only religious in nature and were kept to the church, never spilling over into the community at large. In fact, George Washington even attacked a group of Hessians on Christmas day since he knew they would still be hung over from their celebration and the Patriot troops didn't regard Christmas as anything special, rejecting both Papist and English tradition. Even Congress was in session on Christmas Day doing the day-to-day work as normal. To the Colonists, Christmas was just another day.(Link.)

Like the rest of the colonies,
Christmas in GA wasn't a big deal. The Congregationalist missionaries among the Cherokees at New Echota didn't regard Christmas with any significance, though the Moravians did make quite the party. (Link.)

In 1819, Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon,
gent., a collection of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house, that were based on "ancient customs." It was all made up, of course. But the idea began to take hold and gradually people began to have parties and give gifts to the kids. Even then, there was no relating the birth of Christ with the secular event. It as just a few parties and a few kids' gifts "like they do in England."(Link.)

Christmas was just a sparse religious event among the few Episcopalians and Catholics. There would be a few nativity scenes in the Catholic churches and a special mass, but that was it. Until the Civil War, the overwhelming majority of Americans didn't do anything special with Christmas, not even exchanging gifts or going to church.

The Civil War changed a lot of things and
Christmas was no exception. More people in contact with each other meant learning new ideas. The idea of a winter party gained some acceptance and soon the thought of taking a winter break from the long hours in industrial plants swept the nation. In 1870, President US Grant made Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July and New Year's Day official Federal holidays to accommodate family time, all completely secular and all without pay. (Link.) By 1893, all states and territories had followed suit and made Christmas a secular holiday. (Link.)

Even Baptists didn't celebrate Christmas until after secularization came after the Civil War. Before 1880, there are a few rare mentions of Christmas but mostly as a lecturing exercise. (Link.) However, Baptists were as caught up in the commercialization and the businessmen's prodddings to "Buy! Buy! Buy!" around 1890 just like the rest of the nation ... and ultimately the whole world.

As Christmas became more practiced, the religious connotations emerged and by the 1890s, Christmas took on a uniquely Christian overtone in America. Still, there were two distinct celebrations: one religious and one secular, with all faiths and no faiths getting in on the parties.

It is interesting to note that prior to 1945, there are no Supreme Court cases regarding
Christmas. None. It is not until after WW II ended and the erosion of Christian hegemony that people began to have disputes. After all, until the 1890s, Christmas wasn't even celebrated. During the next 50 years, the majority Christian faith adopted and adapted the Christmas season. Before long, those majority religious ideas were clashing with the secular ideas, other religious ideas and legal principles which meant lawsuits. (Link to some legal info on Christmas.)

Today, Santa is the premier secular
Christmas symbol, first appearing in 1821 and widely accepted by 1897 with the classic, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. That did it. When kids expect presents, they get them and the modern secular Christmas was born. Today, Christmas begins a few days before Thanksgiving and lasts until the final college bowl game sometime after New Years. Of course, Christmas is celebrated all over the world in its secular form, in all nations and of all faiths. Yes, even in Muslim nations, the secular Christmas is celebrated.

The religious aspects of
Christmas have certainly changed over the years. Christmas used to be viewed as sinful and something unholy by most Americans. Nativity scenes even 150 years ago -- would get you thrown in jail and kicked out of the church. Today, things are much different ... well, maybe not in some parts of the nation. Say anything about separation of church and state and ... whew.

No matter how one worships or chooses not to worship, it is entirely a matter of conscience and conviction, a right protected by the Constitution. Yet, we would be greatly amiss to say that our nation has always celebrated
Christmas. That is false. Christmas celebration is a relatively new phenomenon, only having been around for roughly 110 years or so, and even then with many different meanings than what we ascribe today.
For some more info on Christmas traditions and their history, here's another link.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Congressional Prayer Caucus Barks Up Wrong Tree

When I read that Randy Forbes had complained about something President Obama said in a speech while in Jakarta, I shook my head. (Here's the text of Forbes' complaint.) It seems Forbes and the rest of the Congressional Prayer Caucus are upset with President Obama (what else is new?) because Obama said that the National Motto is E Pluribus Unum (Out of One, Many). It's not, of course. The National Motto of the United States is One Nation Under God. So the Congressional Prayer Caucus got upset, using the stage as a chance to get another gig in on their political rival.

I have to believe Obama simply had a slip of the memory. We're talking trivia here, not strategic policy, economic planning or military operations. Forbes and the Congressional Prayer Caucus are barking up the wrong tree.

And they are being a bunch of hypocrites, too.

Frank Lockwood points out on his blog that none other than Ronald Reagan made the same statement, saying E Pluribus Unum is the National Motto. 


Of course, the Congressional Prayer Caucus wasn't around when Reagan said it, but I can't see them sending a complaint letter to The Gipper about his gaff. Maybe they would but I seriously doubt it. 

This is the same group that complained when President Obama omitted "God" from the "correct" interpretation of the Declaration of Independence when he used a summary statement and said that our rights are endowed but left off the phrase by their Creator.

First, Obama was paraphrasing and generalizing --- like we all do.

Second, the Declaration of Independence says Their Creator, not The Creator. (Yes, the emphasis is important.) Everyone has a different concept of god/spiritual things and for the State to decide which God(s) or even if there is a god is beyond the State's competence.

And, third, the Declaration of Independence is referring to the God who is like a clockmaker, not the Biblical, intervening God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and certainly not the New Testament Jesus of a divine nature who became flesh and walked among us. The understanding of "god" in the 18th century by most educated people was of a god who started this mess but doesn't intervene in the affairs of men. 

But, hey, never let a good righteous cause with a chance to score a political brownie point by manipulating the emotional whims of the faithful and gain a few votes stand in the way. (Where is my extreme sarcasm emoticon?) 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Marvin Miller for the Hall of Fame

Put Marvin Miller In The Baseball Hall Of Fame

I remember the news reports as a kid where Bowie Kuhn was at war with Marvin Miller. As a gradeshooler and then a teen, I really didn't understand the arguments or appreciate the strategy that was being played out on the national scene about the national past time. All I cared about was if the Atlanta Braves could manage to find a way to win a 3 game series before figuring out new ways to lose. That was the 1970s, of course.

Now, I see the genius of Miller; the down right ornery behavior of Bowie Kuhn; and I've managed to see the Atlanta Braves become a baseball powerhouse, win a World Series, and entertain my kids, my father and the entire Southeast.

All thanks to the tenacity of Marvin Miller.

Miller forced the business of baseball to treat the players fairly, decently and with some respect. Sure, we've got jerks in the game and we all like to focus on the cry-babies. But what the owners/MLB was doing to players would not be tolerated in any other occupation, save a plantation/slave relationship.

The modern game of baseball is what it is because of Miller. No one else has impacted the game like him. No one. Period. No, he wasn't a 20 game winner for six seasons. He wasn't in the 40-40 Club. He never did anything on the field. But what he did behind the scenes, in the board room and at the negotiating table made baseball a more fair and honest business for the players.

No one likes the strikes. No one likes the seemingly ginormous salaries for playing a game. But major and minor league baseball is not a game. It is a business. It's a business that is worth more than the Gross Domestic Product of entire nations. And were it not for Marvin Miller, the worth of baseball would still be in the hands of a few, exploiting the natural athletic abilities of the most talented players, e.g., employees.

We all recognize there are problems in baseball. Then again, there are problems in any business or any organization. However, let's not punish Miller for the antics of the few or the inefficiencies of the beast.

Miller brought a bit of parity to baseball. Let's not penalize his accomplishments because we don't like what the business has become. Frankly, the business was worse before Miller --- we just didn't see it while it was hidden behind secrecy in the hands of a few owners.

Mr. Miller, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saving Money at Kroger

I split my grocery shopping between Publix and Kroger. Both have things the other doesn't and I prefer some things from one store over the other. Just a matter of preference, I suppose.

But there is one thing that still chaps my butt every time --- my Kroger Plus Card.

In their infinite wisdom and grace, Kroger will give "discounts" for some purchases if you use your Kroger Plus Card when you go to the check out. The discounts can be large or small depending on the item. You can even get a few pennies knocked off your gas purchases at the Kroger gas station too.

Use the Kroger Plus Card. Get discounts. Wonderful idea.


Today I did the second of my bi-monthly generic Diet Mtn. Dew run. (Kroger brand is called Big K Diet Citrus Drop. Here is a review that compares the two.) Of course, I also refilled by scripts while there and a few other things.

Go to the check out. Not the self service line either. If there is no discount for doing the work myself, I'm standing in line and their employee is going to ring my items up for me.

The young clerk rings up my items and then gives me this sort of you should be so happy sorta expression and says: You saved $6.04 today by using your Kroger Plus Card.

Uh, no. I didn't. I didn't save anything. Kroger has marketed that Plus Card as a savings vehicle but we all know that it is only a means of tallying my purchases so they can market to me. After all, they have my address and phone and email and shoe size, and I'm guessing my medical and educational history, too, on some huge computer they have stashed away in some third world nation. Every time I buy the Big K Diet Cirtus Drop, the Excel spread sheet gets another tick in that column and they then have to decide whether to send me an email reminding me how the aspartame is turning my brain to mush, or just sell all my grocery shopping history to Nigel in Nigeria so he can gladly tell me I can shave off $2 million Euros from a $10 million transaction due to the unfortunate passing of Sir David Bramlett in an oil exploration accident, if I would just give him my banking info so he can bestow God's great windfall blessings on me.


Come on, Kroger. I didn't save $6.04 on my purchase today. I simply allowed you to not overcharge me like you do everyone else for the same product, in exchange for my shopping pattern and loss of privacy.

And yet I do it every time to save 25 cents off that 12 pack of Big K Diet Citrus Drop. Maybe I'm the bigger fool here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hi, I'm a Tea Partier

I saw this video over the weekend. Then my good friend over at Georgia Mountains and Beyond posted it to his blog. Each time I watch it, I get a good chuckle.

The fact is, I have had those discussions with "tea partiers" many times over the last year and have actually had them use those same, tired and worn out catch phrases without having a clue as what they are talking about. For example, more than once I've tried to explain that a Socialist and a Fascist are not the same thing; or that the bailout Obama is accused of doing was merely a continuation of the Bush policy. Granted, no one liked the bailout, but it was absolutely 100% necessary to prevent global economic meltdown. Still, the bailout cannot be laid on Obama.

So enjoy the video for I fear those extremists will, as of tomorrow, begin chipping away at the Constitutional liberties, such as religious liberty, habeas corpus, search and seizure, etc.

We are one election cycle and a few judgeships away from genuine Fascism. While I'm not suggesting that our Tea Party friends are Fascists, I make no apology when I say that their ideas are but one step away from it.

Perhaps a bit of Chris Hedges for some perspective would be nice.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thank God for Virginia Baptists

The Virginia Baptist Mission Board has approved the publication of a pamphlet --- in layman's terms --- to explain the need for the separation of church and state. The resolution calling for the measure was deemed necessary, saying Baptists cannot be true to their historic roots if the idea of religious liberty and the Baptist fingerprints on the First Amendment guaranteeing the separation of church and state are replaced with a false version of history that is currently being promulgated by people like Glenn Beck and David Barton. According to the resolution, there has been a systematic effort in recent decades to deny the history that made religious liberty and the separation of church and state part of the Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Problem With Polls

I love to read over the latest polling data, especially when it deals with perceptions about church and state issues. The very topic is one I enjoy studying and discussing. It is like Bruce Gourley says: It lights my Baptist fire. So when I found the latest poll from Lifeway Research that six of ten Protestant pastors disapprove of Obama's job performance, I cringed a bit.

OK. I did more than cringe.

Then I read where 47% strongly disapproved of Obama's performance. I almost fell out of my chair. The poll bothered me.

The poll did thrill me when it found that by a large majority of Democratic aligned pastors (84%) believe that endorsing candidates from the public pulpit is wrong. However, among Republican aligned pastors, that number fell to only 61%. This tells me that politics might be playing a role in more than the voting booth; it is quite possibly an influence on what is being preached.

Disagreeing with the public policies or actions of a politician is fine, even encouraged if we are to be a moral voice. We must always be careful that disagreement is done in the proper sphere, with the pastor walking that fine line between his or her personal and pastoral voice. What bothers me, however, is that too often history has shown that we will let politics become the moral voice instead the moral voice shouting down the politics.

I could cite all sorts of anecdotal evidence where the politics have been confused for the theology. Pastors have endorsed candidates from the pulpit because they believe that is what Jesus would want; public schools giving the mic to one religious group to lead the entire stadium in the worship expression of prayer, while excluding all other faiths and those other tax payers who are of no faith; or cities erecting the banner of one religious group using tax money but excluding all others (link to an opinion piece by Audrey Love who certainly needs a lesson in the history of our nation and the religious persecution that resulted in the First Amendment.).

So I would argue that while our pastors should be applauded that the see the need for a hedge between church and state, I also know that history has taught us that the hedge is likely to be cut down if the political yearning of the pastorate gets too excited. This is something we cannot afford to give an inch of the wall that separates the church from the state, lest both become corrupted by the power of Caesar instead of the power of the Spirit.

I guess that is why it bothers me when the poll showed such a large percentage of pastors who simply do not like Obama. Now I could argue that is due to pastors, by and large, have a lack of economics training to understand how desperate things were in Q4 2008, or Q1 2009; I could also argue that very few pastors understand the basics of tax policy well enough to grasp the dynamics of what is needed to fund the mandates the American people insist upon having. I could easily make the case that much of the criticism of Obama is due to simple lack of understanding of how things work economically and of our basic system of government or our history/legal system. While all that may be true, it is of little comfort to know that history is replete with examples where clergy have gotten so disgruntled, they climbed over the Wall of Separation and began using political weapons under the guise of spiritual truths.

Maybe it is time for pastors to step back a moment from the political fear mongering out there and begin concentrating on our mission instead of the next election.

Just thinking out loud.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Voting Those "Religiously Informed Values"

It used to be that everyone knew what the various denominations believed & stood for. The local papers published the sermons each week & everyone read them. Most folks knew the distinctions in doctrine between the various churches & most certainly the theological variations among the denominations. All knew, for example, the Methodists stood for social action & personal piety; the Baptists held tenaciously to "Soul Freedom" & the Separation of Church & State; the Presbyterians were big on the idea of Covenant & predestination; the Catholics proclaimed the rich history of tradition, the church universal, & the various orders; the Pentecostals delved into experiential theology, etc.

Sadly, today, folks don't even know their own theological distinctives, much less what other groups believe.

Thus, bringing us to the topic title: how can folks vote their "religiously informed values" if they don't even know what those values are, the history behind them, or the theological truths that give rise to the value?

I raise this question for two reasons. First, we need to realize that voting "religiously informed values" must never mean voting into law our religious dogma. Second, without an understanding of the theology, it is easy to be manipulated by religious leaders who rely on that ignorance to keep control of their power.

Let's think back to the early Colonists, many of whom came here to escape religious persecution. But what did they do when they got here? They set up the very sort of theocratic rule from whence they came. The majority's "religiously informed values" became the law. Dissenters were persecuted, whipped, shunned, or hanged. Is that the sort of society we want again?

The Founding Fathers intentionally drew a line of demarcation between the church & state. The gov't they established expressly forbade religious law from entering the civil code, even going as far to set up an entirely secular gov't with no place given for religious leaders.

Those theocracies were banned. And they should stay that way.

The difficulty people have is that they see their religious ideas as =the= truth for everyone. Now it may very well be that your religious ideas are 100% correct, but they may very well not be either. And even if those religious values you hold are entirely what God wants, God doesn't work through the legal code to carry out his plan. That is done via the spiritual establishment, not the gov't. Moreover, not everyone holds those same religious opinions & thus it is morally wrong to impose religious dogma onto others.

If there is no compelling =secular= reason for a law, the religious rational is simply not enough. Otherwise, the gov't is following the majority faith's religious dogma & establishing it with a Most Favored Status.

But the most ardent reason we don't vote our "religiously informed values" into law is the simple history of religious leaders in the past. History is replete with corrupt churchmen who rely on the theological ignorance of the people to manipulate policy. Just think of the charlatans past & present who misused Scripture to gain power for themselves.

And you're kidding yourself if you think there aren't charlatans out there who use faith as a means of gain. Tell the people what "God" wants them to do, rewrite the history, & suddenly the masses will do anything. With God on their side & a charismatic leader, there is no sin the people won't commit.

The danger of these "religiously informed values" become clear when applied to other faiths. What if the judge in Douglas County, GA, were Muslim & he insisted on the community's majority Muslim standards? What if "his courtroom, his rules" meant that every woman had to come in =with= a veil? What if women were not allowed to speak in his courtroom? What if he insisted on everyone swearing on the Koran & to Allah to tell the truth? What if Sharia Law was applied instead of the secular Constitution?

We've come too far & fought too hard for too long to let those sort of theocratic ideals have even a smidgen of a foothold. Not again. We've seen what happens in when faith & gov't become intertwined.

Not again. Not here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Technology has Changed the Song Lyric

I was thinking recently (a scarey thought in and of itself) about how technology has changed music over the years. Remember that scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly plays a cover version of Johnny B. Goode and Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck on the phone and tells him he has found that "new sound?" Yep. The electric guitar (and some kewl licks) changed music forever.

Or how about the 70s groups of Boston or Abba? They used Phil Specter's wall of sound to perfection and changed the way we hear music.

But there are other technology changes that are not related to the sound but to the very nature of the song itself.

When the telephone become common, letter writing took a hit --- naturally. It is easier to call someone than to write a letter, mail it and then wait for a response. Still, the idea of the love letter or the phone call from that special someone was the lyricists best friend.

Until the cell phone, email and, of course, texting

Though the use of texting seems so cold when talking to a lover, wish-to-be-lover or a former lover, I can see where texting could solve problems for many couples-on-the-rocks. After all, how many high school sweethearts have been terrified to call that Hunka-Hunka Burning Love for fear the person that answers the phone would be the foreboding parent? Now, with a cell phone, a quick text that says, "Hi, I'm sorry" can save that passionate relationship for another, oh, two weeks.

So all that got me to thinking about songs that relate, somehow, to the idea of the phone call or the forgotten skill of handwritten letters. Here's a quick list I came up with in a few hours. Please feel free to add your's via comments.

Sylvia's Mother, by Dr. Hook.
Memphis, Tennessee, by Chuck Berry.
Please, Mr. Postman, by The Marvelettes and again by The Carpenters'.
Telephone Line, by Electric Light Orchestra.
Return to Sender,  by Elvis Presley.
Callin' Baton Rouge, made most famous by Garth Brooks.
867-5309,  by Tommy Tutone.
Rikki Don't Lose That Number, by Steely Dan.
Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels), by the amazing Jim Croce.
By the Time I Get to Phoenix, made popular by Glen Campbell.
Walking on Sunshine, by Katrina and the Waves.
Call Me, by Blondie.

Feel free to add some more via comments.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Pastor, Politics and Money

This should not be all that complicated but evidently Fairview Baptist Church of Edmund, OK, doesn't understand Baptist distinctives --- or the law --- very well.

On Sunday, September 26, 2010, Pastor Paul Blair brazenly violated the law and endorsed an OK candidate for governor while in the pulpit

We all know Blair was trying to make a point and challenge the IRS. After all, the Alliance Defense Fund has been encouraging that for a while now.

And he managed to do just that. The endorsement was on video and aired on TV. Just to make sure, Blair mailed a copy to the IRS, along with his endorsement of John McCain in 2008.

The problem is that if churches want to endorse candidates, there is an influence. That influence translates into votes. If someone doesn't think a church and it's pastor can deliver votes, that someone hasn't noticed how politicians have begun courting the Religious Right. There is a reason politicians want a pastor's endorsement: it works.

Second, a pastor has always been able to endorse candidates privately. In fact, the pastor can speak out on moral or spiritual issues. There has never been a problem with that. The issue is the direct involvement of the church into the process with money or influence, or the pastor engaging in partisanship while in his official capacity. This is not all that complicated: if a church wants to act like a political action committee, then let it come under the same rules, pay taxes, disclose the contributors and contributions and move on.

Third, I wonder if Pastor Blair realizes if he can endorse candidates and involve the church in the political process, then he must also advocate the same allowances for the mosque down the street. Hmmmm. Treat others the way you want to be treated, Pastor Blair.

Lastly, I wonder when the last time Pastor Blair read his Baptist history? Baptists have always been in support of the clear separation of church and state, until sometime in the late 1970s when the church was no longer seen as the Body of Christ but a Prize Voting Bloc. Hmmm. Pastor Blair has allowed himself to be played by the political machine --- or maybe Pastor Blair is letting his politics drive his theology. Either way, I would ask Pastor Blair to show in the NT where Jesus or Paul or Peter or any NT writer said a word about using the secular government (and non-Christian tax dollars) to advance the Message of Hope. Jesus said to build the church; he didn't say anything about a political process.

Oooops. Wait a minute. Hold on. I see on the Fairview Baptist Church's website where it has been duped into believing that whole "Christian Nation" historical revisionism. Intentionally misrepresenting history, the law and the Word of God is three-for-three on the Strike Out Meter.

When the church becomes just another voice for the politician, the church will follow whatever politician courts it the most. And Pastor Blair trusts the earthly, carnal, corruptible political process over the things of the Spirit?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Man That Sneaked into Auschwitz

I had never heard of Witold Pilecki until I saw this report from NPR. After reading it, I began to search further into the story of the man and his sacrifice for liberty. What an amazing story! Pilecki left everything for the good of all free people everywhere. We owe this man more than we could ever give. 

From what I can gather, there is a movement in Poland to commemorate the life of this extraordinary man in some way, possibly a movie.

Thank you, Mr. Pilecki.

Monday, September 20, 2010

When Baptists Supported Separation of Church and State

I don't know when it happened. I think it happened when Baptists realized they were no longer the persecuted minority but were the the pious majority. Something happened after WWII when the Baptists were the Boom in Baby Boomers and took over as the largest Protestant denomination.

We Baptists became the very thing we used to preach against.

We Baptists were the initiators of Church-State Separation. It was our motto. It was in our DNA. It was who we were, what we were about (e.g., soul freedom and each person answerable to God alone) and the basis of our identity.

Not any more.

Starting in the 1970s and the rise of the Moral Majority, we Baptists became not the voice of Hope but the voice of a voting bloc that could be delivered by a group of pastors bent on a political agenda. We were not the Voice but the Vice. We stopped being the Compassionate Hand and became the Calloused Agenda. No longer did we serve the Master but the Mammon, the Power and the wishes of whatever political issue would sway us with pious words.

Shame on those Southern Baptist pastors that sold our Baptist soul for 30 pieces of silver ... and the ear of the politicians'.

We got played. We were used. We were to be delivered on the altar of November 4 each year and every other year for the Congressional elections. Forget the social implications of the Gospel; Baptists were now the voting bloc to be herded by the voice of Another Shepherd. And we listened. And we went to other pastures. And we grazed on our secular delights, thinking we were making a difference because God had to be blessing us if we were the largest and the most prolific vote getters and givers.

Now we realize that we have left our identity, our passion, our mission.

When we confuse politics with the Will of God, we remake God in our image. Worst of all, we build a new wall --- a wall that separates not church from state, but people from hearing the Message of Peace.

Bruce Gourley has a wonderful artice on Baptist identity in this month's Baptist Studies Bulleting (September 2010). I am honored to have him as my invited guest to speak at the September meeting of GA's combined chapters meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, September 24, 6PM at Moe's Southwest Grill. Bruce is a voice of reason, scholarship and practicality.

We need to learn our own history.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Christian Nation Nonsense

I keep hearing all this "America was founded as a Christian Nation" nonsense and I've got a few questions for those proponents.

First, please point out for me the parts of the US Constitution that detail those "Judeo-Christian Values" you folks keep talking about. I have read the Constitution over and over but there are no uniquely Christian principles in that document anywhere, save one: the Separation of Church and State.

Second, if the Founding Fathers wanted to create a Christian Nation, they certainly did a poor job of it, since they never mentioned God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, nor even a Bible verse as is so common when annotating an idea. In fact, most of the Founding Fathers would be considered heretical by today's evangelical standards, while a tiny minority would be classified as true theocrats and would scare the Bar-Jesus out of even Glenn Beck, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Thirdly, the Bible itself never discusses those ideas of freedom we hold so dear. The Bible discusses soul freedom and freedom in Christ but those are theological concepts, not political ideas. Never once do the Christian Scriptures mention democracy, a republic or anything related to American values, nor even freedom of speech or freedom of religion; separation of powers and limitations on the power of the executive; nor an independent judicial branch, elections or voting. The Bible provides no model for "good" government or for personal freedoms. It is a purely religious/theological document.

Fourth, I find it puzzling that the Religious Right uses the term "Judeo-Christian Values" today in a not-so-subtle attempt to link themselves to the Jewish population. It is a rather odd attempt since the Jewish people of Colonial America were treated with contempt and persecuted in most places. But yesterdays persecuted minority is today's needed voting bloc ...

Fifth, I find the people who want to claim we are a Christian Nation to be completely ignorant (or intentionally ignorant) of US history. Never mind the Treaty of Tripoli explicitly declares we were in no wise founded as a Christian Nation. (I actually had one theocrat try to explain that as America's early attempt at foreign policy to appease the Arab World. Think about it: he said we intentionally lied about our founding to keep the Muslims from attacking our merchant ships. Imagine that. He is saying we denied Christ at the very beginning, something that would make every one of the "Founders" apostates in the eyes of God. Amazing.)

Then there were the responses from the Colonial churches who knew we were not founded as a Christian Nation since they proclaimed the Constitution "Godless" and urged people to vote against its ratification. I would add that the clergy of the day understood exactly what the Framers were saying, and understood explicitly that the Constitution was a secular document. Of course the Baptists of the day, e.g., John Leland, Isaac Backus,, applauded the Constitution's lack of Christian character since Baptists understood what it meant to be on the minority side of religious persecution when the Crown or Colonial government weighed in on theological matters. That also explains why the Baptists convinced Madison to make sure there was not even be the hint of government showing any faith that Most Favored Status. Baptists argued that theological matters are too lofty for the state to involve itself and that nowhere in the NT are we told to utilize the secular government to advance the Message of Hope.

Our current Constitution was noteworthy in its absence of religious recognition, and this formed the basis for much intense debate and opposition to its ratification. Rev. Doctor Wilson, in an 1831 sermon protested that it almost seemed as though God had been deliberately excluded from the origins of the new government:

"... the Constitution was framed and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution. The proceedings, as published by Thompson, the secretary, and the history of the day, show that the question was gravely debated whether God should be in the Constitution or not, and after a solemn debate he was deliberately voted out of it ... There is not only in the theory of our government no recognition of God's laws and sovereignty, but its practical operation, its administration, has been conformable to its theory."

While there is certainly some legitimate debate over the person who preached this sermon, the sermon is accurate.  The sermon in question was titled, PRINCE MESSIAH’S CLAIMS TO DOMINION OVER ALL GOVERNMENTS: AND THE DISREGARD OF HIS AUTHORITY BY THE UNITED STATES, IN THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION, and as one site says, because of the way in which he criticized the Presidents, he was denounced.

The whole thing makes for an interesting read.

Finally, the only thing that makes sense to me is that the Religious Right has a vested interest in this. They want to manipulate the faithful for their own desires of avarice and power. When faith becomes a tool for political gain, faith is always corrupted and the faithful end up the hapless victims of their own religious leaders.

We still have much work to do. Let there be no breaks whatsoever in the wall of separation.

Friday, July 2, 2010

America Needs a New National Anthem

Today I will say it. Make no mistake about it. I want to make sure I'm saying this in the most emphatic way possible: I can't stand America's national anthem.

There. Finally it is out in the open & maybe some other people will start open discussions about what they've privately thought for a long, long time.

America's national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, is rich in history & meaning & all that, but it has outlived its purpose. Its hard to sing: everyone struggles with it (unless you a trained vocalist blessed with pipes) & hardly anybody knows the words. The tune is really, really hard to carry. Really.

Worst of all, it's boring. B-O-R-I-N-G.

There is nothing that makes you want to jump to your feet, wave the flag, slap high fives with your buddies or kiss the pretty girls (like you need an excuse for that anyway, but let's not waste a good opportunity, ya know). It is just kinda there & is nothing all that special.

America is the land of the free & the home of the brave. The land where everyone is a first class citizen, with the free scotch & the complimentary warm towels.

The US of A deserves an anthem that makes the rest of the world jealous.

So I propose we change our national anthem to something with some style, pizazz & soul. Since Sweet Home Alabama is about single state & the other 49 would be ticked off, that one is off the list. Pity. James Brown's Living in America would really kick butt over any other anthem, but I think there might be a wee bit of opposition from the more prudish. Maybe Queen's We Will Rock You is available ...

I found this video below. It is from Celtic Thunder (
official site; Wiki link). The song is Ireland's Call, the anthem for the Irish National Rugby team. Sure, it is not the national anthem but just look at the reaction to the audience. That's what I'm talking about.

This, my fellow Americans, makes you wanna cheer. It makes you wanna stand up, applaud, poke your chest out & say I'm proud. It's a kick butt song. Something like this is what we need as America's new national anthem.

So who's with me?

Michael Kinsley's op-ed piece  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Team USA Soccer

That's right, citizens. Here comes the Red, White & Blue. When the rest of the world was cringing in fear --- too afraid to board the Mayflower --- our ancestors were staring adversity in the face with that American Resolve the rest of the world envies. America. The land of the free. The home of the brave. And the Team that believes in miracles.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Winning the Heisman

Two years ago my youngest had to go to a new elementary school when he entered 5th grade. Never mind his old school is 1/10th of a mile away & his "new" school is 4 miles away. Not important.

What is important is what something means to a 10 year old. And this is a Biggie.

His first day of "new" school. Didn't know a soul. Recess. Boys play football. He was the =last= pick. That is a killer. Dead last pick. The kid with narcolepsy & 12 lb cowboys boots holding up a 175 lb frame, who barely runs the 40 yard dash in 4.4 hours =&= had the flu was picked ahead of my son. First day. Knows no one. Last pick for playground football. Devastating. Heartbreaking.

After week two of "new" school, he comes home beaming. Grinning from ear to ear. What does he say? Well, a different tune.

Dad, guess what?

What, son?

You ain't gonna believe this!

What is it, son?

At recess I'm now 1st pick every day in football, soccer, kickball =&= in PE class dodge ball.


Yep. I'm the 1st Pick in the 1st Round in every sport. It's kinda like winning the Heisman every day.

Ah. The simple magic of being a child.

Now fast forward to last week. June 3, 2010. Awards Day. 6th grade. A whole 2 years of "new" school. Now 12 years old. My son was voted by his fellow 6th grade classmates as the "Most Athletic." That means the majority of 350 students voted my son what is equivalent to the 6th grade Heisman. Sure, he also was given the Social Studies Award, the Technology Award & the Honor Roll Award, but he is most proud of his "Heisman."

I guess looking at things through a kid's eyes puts life in a whole new perspective. Not a big deal to me or you or to anyone else in the world. It won't change the economy or make life better for anyone, anywhere on the planet. But for one 12 year old kid at "new" school, he thinks he's won the Heisman.

And that's a big deal.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

California Stands Up To Texas Politics in Textbooks

I will say one thing for California other than they have some fine wineries & the great town of San Diego: they are doing the right thing in standing up to the Reich Wing extremists on the Texas Board of Education who are trying to revise history to fit their politics.

Here's the article from The Raw Story.

My hat is off to California in this. Thank you.

I will be the first to admit that I wish history sometimes told a different tale than it does. I wish the story of America was always noble, just, honorable and kind. But it is not. History is never like that. Instead, history is a record of ideas that "won" the minds of the people, usually by war, politics, good fortune or just plain old manipulation. The latter is what the Texas Board of Education is attempting to do regarding what is taught to the school kids in one of the two largest public education systems.

Trying to make our Founding Fathers a group of 21st Century-minded evangelicals is simply manipulation to present a falsehood. OK. Let me say it more plainly: It is a lie. It is flat-out, wrong. The Founders were at best men of the Enlightenment --- Deists at best, Unitarians at least --- and were nearly all secularists when it came to the relationship between the church & the state. These men were more influenced by John Locke's views on the secular side but also the theological view of Baptist leaders like Roger Williams and John Leland who insisted that even God wouldn't invade the conscience via the worldly means of human government.

The Texas School Board wants us to believe the First Amendment's principle of Separation of Church & State is a myth promulgate by "liberals" and atheists. Not true! The statement is a summary statement, just like the phrase "right to a fair trial" is a summary statement of what is in the Constitution, though those actual words aren't there in either case. The Founders saw what happens when the church & the state meld & they did not want that any longer. It is true that he early colonies were founded with a state church & for the purposes of advancing a religion. Sure it was. England had a state church & the church was used as a tool of the state to keep people in line with the Crown's Mercantile Option for the colonies. If a person wouldn't stay in line with the laws of England, perhaps the laws of God --- enforced by the local church under the threat of eternal torment --- would do the trick.

By the time the Constitution was adopted, the Founders wanted neither a state-run church nor a church-run state. Both options were abandoned. And to ensure there was no doubt, the amendment to simply ban a national denomination or church or religion was voted down three times. The theocrats that wanted a national church were thwarted and the Congress decided to adopt an even more expansive amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

No law. Not even the force of law. Nothing that even respects or hints of it. Not THE establishment, but ANY establishment. Not even something that hints there might be any religion getting a Most Favored Status.

And yet, those people on the Texas Board of Education are convinced that the Separation of Church & State is a myth?

I think those people in Texas need to admit they are letting their politics interpret history instead of letting history tell the tale & learn from it. We've already tried their version once. We fought a Revolution to rid ourselves of the Crown & the Crown's version of faith over the people.

Dare we forget that lesson?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hospital ICU & Waffle House

It's been four months since my dad passed away. I still miss him. He was my hero. I'm finally able to blog about some of it now. So here goes.

I am still struck with how incredibly tiring all of it was. Going back & forth to the hospital. Making phone calls. Talking to doctors. Eating. Back to the ICU. More waiting. While there was no physical activity nearly at all, the emotional stress of having a dying parent is huge. And there was little sleep, really. Oh, I would go home, sleep a few hours, & head right back to the hospital, afraid I wouldn't be there when anything happened, even good news. The entire process kept repeating, like my world was reduced to 4 hour intervals between meals/snacks/naps. Even at night when everyone had gone home, the same 4 hour process kept repeating itself.

A few mornings I had breakfast at Waffle House before going to the hospital to wait through another day. This might be a really off the wall comparison, but stay with me on this one: Waffle House & the hospital ICU really have a lot in common. First, both run on similar schedules, namely 6AM-noon, then 5PM to roughly 8:30PM. Those are the busy hours with people coming & going. I noticed both were really fast-paced & well-oiled machines. Everyone knew their task & it was performed to a crisp degree. Both had barking orders. Both had patrons who were spent & frustrated. And both cheerfully smiled & treated each person like they were appreciated.

Second, both Waffle House & the hospital ICU staff genuinely seemed to take an interest in the people they were serving. The waitress smiled as much as the nurse. The cook wished me a "hello" & "have a nice day" just as the ICU staff asked me how I was doing when I came in the door. I noticed that after a few days, the nurses/ICU staff learned my name, my family's names & tidbits of info. They knew the schools were my youngest kids attended & that my oldest was a double major in math & physics at Berry College. They knew where I worked. They knew my mom's name, how she liked her coffee & what questions she kept asking. Funny thing is, the people at the Waffle House knew the same things about their regular customers. When a familiar face would walk in, the waitress wouldn't give the "Hello, welcome to Waffle House!" Oh, no. It was: "Robert! Good morning to you! How's the job search coming?" "Good to see you, Mary! How are those grand kids!" The smiles that the Waffle House people gave were as sincere as the ICU staff. They greetings were just as concerned. The familiarity was same. There was little difference in the pain or joy that the customers were going through, in many cases. It is rather odd to think that there would be such similarities in such different businesses.

Thirdly, I saw similar people. Hurting people. Worried people. Desperate people. People that had been brought face to face with somethings they had no control. I'm not talking about just the ICU either. The waitress at the Waffle House told me how one guy was about to lose his home to foreclosure: he had been out of work for a year. Another patron couple had a child on trial for some serious crimes & they didn't know what to do, were blaming themselves & just wanted someone to tell them that somebody cared. Those people walked through those doors to get more than food -- they came in there for some respite from a hard world, a kind word & service that would rival a 5 Star restaurant. If you think that is any different than the service the ICU staff gave, it is not. They did care. They did cry with me. They did want to make things easier, even if they knew they couldn't.

Lastly, I was struck with the idea of "Customer Service" that was given as a Prime Directive at both establishments. While the price differential is ginormous; the educational gap is huge; the job commitment to service is just as real. The ICU staff went out of their way to point out that they wanted to get "all 5s" on the surveys. That was the highest possible rating. The nurses/staff several times said they wanted to keep those satisfaction scores up because they wanted to provide superior service. Now, I happen to know that raises & bonuses are decided partly by those survey results, but that is no different than the waitress at Waffle House & her tips. The last thing I heard as I was leaving the Waffle House was, "Have a great day & come back to see us!" The last thing the ICU nurses would say to me as I left for the day is, "Have a good night & we'll call you if there is any change." Even in the high tech world of medicine, or the low tech world of a making an omelet, showing concern about people goes much further than just being good at what you do.

Maya Angelou once said: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Seems that is true in the most divergent of places, from the ICU to the Waffle House.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Southern Snow Days: Get Off My Ice

I swear, I am going to slap the fire out of someone if I hear this one more time:

You Southerners don't know how to drive on ice.

Uh, like you do? The operative words are drive (something you Yankees need to learn to do without one hand on the horn & a finger in the air) & ice (something no one can drive on anyway, so don't give me that all High-&-Mighty crap).

In GA we don't waste the taxpayer dollars on snow plows & salt trucks because we rarely have need of them. And on those rare occasions, e.g. this weekend, when we do get snow or ice, it is a Southern Holiday. The tradition is that we close down everything, sit in our warm homes, drink hot-chocolate (kids & Baptists) or spirited beverages (everyone else) & spend time with our families, or dream about those with whom we wish we were fortunate enough to be snowed-in.

Don't mess with our tradition.

You must not have read that section in the Southerner's Handbook you were given when you crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. If you didn't read it, get out your copy & give it another shot.

And if you don't like our tradition, get in your car & you make that attempt to drive on ice. We rather enjoy watching your "superior skills" slipin'-&-slidin' all over the roads, before you go down the embankment & slam into other Yankees doing the same thing you're doing --- showing your arse. The TV cameras will love you for it.

BTW, snow is easy. Ice is another matter. Yankees can't drive on ice either. The only difference is that our Yankee Brethren spend tax dollars on those plows & trucks --- I suppose they need that sort of equipment. Our feeling is that if you're gonna spend money on tractors & big trucks, it had better be used for either: 1) growing a food crop; or 2) needs to be in a large arena in competition with similar vehicles.

So leave our Holidays alone. If you'll slow down a bit, stop talking so danged fast & listen a little, you may just find out that you enjoy what the South has to offer.

I feel much better getting that off my chest.